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tv   Dateline Extra  MSNBC  October 9, 2016 12:00am-1:01am PDT

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>> that's all for this edition of "dateline extra." i'm tamron hall. thank you for watching. >> we the jury, find the defendant, guilty! >> reporter: you actually think they read the wrong verdict? >> you feel so alone. >> reporter: it's like a shot in the chest. despair to hope. darkness to light. tonight, a fight for freedom, what happened to this teenager could happen to any one of our children. everyone should stand up and take notice. at 18, he was arrested for murder. adamant he was innocent. >> reporter: there was no
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physical evidence to tie him to the crime? >> i had nothing to do with this. i swear to god! >> reporter: so what could have possibly led to this?! >> you stabbed that woman. >> i stabbed her. >> you stabbed her didn't you? >> why would he confess to something he didn't do? why would he? >> reporter: what really happened during that police interrogation? >> the evidence shows you were there. i can't lie about the evidence. >> reporter: i can't lie to you about this, but the officer is lying about lying! tonight, an extraordinary look inside the interview room. >> you don't talk to me, i can't keep you from the worst! >> i was scared. i was shaking. >> reporter: this is one of the most intense interrogations that i've ever seen. welcome to "dateline." how could you confess to a crime you didn't commit? it seems to defy logic and common sense. and yet it does happen. advocates say far more often than any of us realizes. here's keith morrison.
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>> a freak snowstorm like an omen. smothers the little town in the blue ridge mountains. february 19, 2003. just before 9:00 a.m. winter or no, they were not used to this. through the white deadening blanket that buried the town, a piercing sound. fire alarm. now the snowstorm was the last thing on fire chief preston gentry's mind. >> the tone went off for a fire with occupants possibly trapped inside. that ramps everything up to full force. >> the alarm was on a quiet start. >> there were a lot of kids in that nabtd. you're running a lot of things through your mind. who are the occupants you have to rescue? >> the fire trucks raced to the home of a recently separated woman of anne charles and children. thick black smoke poured from the second story eaves.
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part of the roof burned away. >> we were concentrating on getting up the steps and getting to the rooms where we were pretty sure we had victims. >> neighbors crowded in behind police barricade. one was an 18-year-old who lived up the street. an awkward sort of kid, a bit immature for his age. he had strep throat that morning, was taking antibiotics. but nothing could keep him from this. robert davis. >> everyone goes down and starts watching. >> the fire department there by then? >> yeah, the fire department was there by then. we sat there and watched for five minutes. then one of the fire department people asked us to a truck that was maybe a 100, 200 yards away to oxygen -- it felt good to help out. >> this woman lift next door. she watched the fire and worried about the pretty young mother trapped in there, anne charles.
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>> she would come outside and play with the kid. we would talk here and there. but she was a really nice person. >> then something good has two daughters, katie and wendy escaped unharmed from their downstairs bedrooms. but that left anne and little thomas just 3 years old, unaccounted for. somewhere upstairs. >> we put the fire out and we started checking the bedrooms for occupants. >> nothing good after that. upstairs firemen found little thomas on the floor beneath the window, dead of smoke inhalation. chief gentry steeled himself to what might be next. he felt his way through debris and lingering smoke to ann's room. >> i crawled over to the bunk bed and that's where we found a victim in the bunk bed and that person was secured in the bunk bed both hand and both legs were -- >> tied up?
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>> tied up. >> now that put an entirely different complexion on things. this wasn't just a fire. >> so what did that tell you? >> right there, that keys up this is a crime scene. we basically extinguished the fire 57bd left everything as is. >> and then forensic investigator took overment. >> one thing that jumped out at me was out of place there was a 5-gallon bucket sitting in the middle of the living room floor with an empty bottle of rubbing alcohol. >> an empty bottle of rubbing alcohol? >> it didn't look like it belonged there. >> upstairs scattered near ann's body, they found three aerosol cans, probably also accelerant. all of that liquid kindle for murder. >> there was a blob of melted plastic consistent with a smoke detector melted on -- laying on the floor. there was a 9-volt battery like it went to a smoke detector in
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the sink. >> someone had taken it out. >> someone had removed it. >> so cruel 57d deliberate. all the more shocking in a town where 340ird is exceedingly rare says the detective. >> that's not a common occurrence here. >> how did it hit you and members of the department? >> you have a victim and you also have a child. the child, that touches you in a different way because it's a 3-year-old child. >> yeah. >> these things do touch you personally, don't they? >> outside, the curious onlookers were a beat behind. all they knew was that ann charles and her little boy were no more. >> it devastated me. i was in shock. especially about that little boy. and still didn't know what had happened really. >> wasn't long, though, watching the silent stern faces streaming
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in and out of that little house, that person couldn't help but put two and two together. >> it was very scary. i think the whole neighborhood was scared. right there in that very neighborhood, police would find their suspects. when we come back -- >> they had recovered a knife. >> quick work from investigators. two suspects, two confessions. >> he was -- go in, find april purse, get the money and then leave. >> only those involved will know. >> were they tell the truth?
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>> reporter: at first it was just a rumor that spread around little crozet, virginia that february, 2003. but pretty soon everybody knew it was true. it wasn't any ordinary fire robert davis witnessed out on cling lane. >> you'd hear about it in the grocery store or -- or the -- the gas stations or stuff like that. >> so it was clear that it was a murder. >> yes, sir. >> reporter: ann charles and her 3-year-old thomas were dead, horribly. the forensics man, larry claytor, got a better look at it than anybody. >> this is probably one of the more horrendous cases i had -- had worked in my career. >> reporter: larry couldn't give investigators much to go on, a few small footprints in the snow out back. but forget dna, any possibility
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of finding that was flushed away by fire hoses. >> and then i get word from the medical examiner's office that they had recovered a knife that was sticking in the woman's back. and -- >> what'd you think when you heard that? >> i went back to my photographs. and sure enough, in the middle of her back, was the knife. >> reporter: so, someone stabbed her, but who? firefighters tipped police that a brother/sister duo across the street. rocky and jessica fugett had been watching the fire, claimed to know the victims. robert davis and his friend, kevin marsh, knew them as aggressive troublemakers at high school. >> people were afraid of them. we just -- they come through the hallway, people would just move out the way for them, try not to be around them. kevin's friend, shy and awkward robert seemed to be a target. seemed to be a favorite target. >> they used to pick on him all the time. they called him retarded, fat, ugly, stupid. >> reporter: robert said he tried to ignore it, but they knew his vulnerabilities.
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>> you know i tried to keep my distance from him when i could. and stay cordial wherever i -- we were, close proximity to each other. >> reporter: "safer that way," said robert. in any case, the detectives paid a visit to the fugett's house, where they learned enough to march the pair down to police headquarters two days later for questioning. and rocky admitted. he was there to rob the place. >> i was in the house. >> i know you were in the house. >> i started out downstairs. jessica went upstairs first. i was supposed to just watch and make sure everything was happy. >> reporter: detective phil giles interviewed jessica. >> she eventually acknowledged she tried to say it was somebody else first, and then at some point put herself there. >> it was supposed to be routine. we go in, we find her purse, we take her money, and then we leave. that was all that was supposed to happen. >> reporter: but then rocky went way off script, said jessica, tied ann to her bed with duct tape, and turned it into murder. >> who set the place on fire?
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>> rocky. >> okay, who cut ann's throat? >> rocky. >> who stabbed ann in the back? >> rocky. >> okay. >> reporter: jessica told detective giles the murder weapons were a kitchen knife and a metal rod for bludgeoning, which they stashed in a hole out behind ann's house. >> she said we probably couldn't find it without her. so we drove her out there, and we walked the entire path until we got to the hole. she said, "that's it, right there." and -- lo and behold, we had some evidence folks with us, reached in, discovered those two items were there. >> what was that like? >> you know that this -- these are intimate details, and only those involved are gonna know where are the instruments that were used to kill someone. >> reporter: so, that was that. they had their story, and their culprits. except, there was one more very significant detail, offered up by both jessica and rocky, something the town's rumor mill failed to catch by the time kevin and robert went out for the evening a couple of days later. >> we went bowling. we went out to eat, just had a
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grand old time. >> reporter: by that time, it was after midnight, about time to go home to bed. >> we're sitting in the parking lot, talking, just laughing. and all of a sudden, multiple police cars pull up. they get out, guns drawn. they order me out the vehicle first. they get me walking backwards to them with my hands up. >> reporter: and then, through all the terror and confusion, it dawned on kevin marsh. it wasn't him they'd come for. >> so then, i see them getting robert out, kicking him by his feet, knocking him to the ground, ramming his face into the asphalt, putting him in the handcuffs. >> reporter: the story the fugetts told the police? they had accomplices when they murdered ann charles, and one was robert davis. coming up -- >> i was scared. i was shaking. >> now, it would be robert davis' turn in the interrogation room. >> why don't you tell me,
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robert, what took place that night. >> when "dateline" continues.
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>> by all accounts, including his own, robert davis was a mama's boy. because of his child-like ways perhaps or his learning disabilities? maybe. >> he's easy to play. he's like me. he's got a kind heart, he's gullible. >> robert seemed to need his mother sandy to protect him from the big bad world. while he took care of her when she was attacked by chronic illness. medication for which tends to slur her speech. >> he's a big dude, but he's a teddy bear. he always wanted to grow up and be in healthcare and nursin' like i was. >> mind you, robert did get into trouble once over a petty theft and his learning disabilities landed him in a special school for several years. but the good thing? a family acquaintance was the school resource police officer.
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his name was randy snead he'd known robert and his mom for years. robert looked up to randy. trusted him. so when officer snead now a detective with the albemarle county police came looking for robert after the fire. sandy told him without hesitation where he could find her son. >> i said, "is robert in trouble?" and he said, "he's in serious trouble." >> but sandy had no idea just how serious or what was about to happen in that parking lot, where robert was hanging out with his friend. >> guns pointed at you, you're-- you're wonderin' what's goin' on. i mean, i was-- i was scared. i was shaking. why robert? because the siblings told them they had accomplices and he was one of them. another one was interviewed by detective giles and his partner. >> at the end of the interview, we both looked at each other and said this kid has no idea what we're talking about. he was clueless what we were talking about.
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the kid was eventually released. robert, robert had a far different experience in the interview room. and a different detective. >> they're sitting across -- there sitting across from you was randy snead. >> randy snead. >> you knew him? >> since i was 12 or 13. i was i was on a first name basis with him. >> reporter: kind of a friend. >> yeah. because i've known him for so long. >> why don't you tell me, robert -- what took place that night? you tell me your story of what happened. >> i was at my house, man. >> at first, robert swore that he was innocent but six hours later -- he had confessed to murder. >> i stabbed her. >> you stabbed her, didn't you? >> one, one or two times. >> everything you've told me is true, correct? >> true. >> everything you've done, and been part of is true, correct? >> true. >> later that day, officer snead allowed robert to call his mother. >> i said, "robert, what did you say?"
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he said, "since they wanted to hear that, i told 'em, 'fine." >> what did it feel like in here when you heard that from your son? >> i felt like i was gonna have a heart attack and die. >> around the neighborhood, people who had known robert for years couldn't believe it. >> he was always polite, mannerable, and i knew robert was a follower. and i just still couldn't believe that robert was involved. >> and yet, the boy said it himself. >> why would he confess to somethin' that he didn't do? >> robert's mother couldn't afford an attorney, so the state appointed one for him. steve rosenfield. >> reporter: what was your impression of him when you first met him? >> robert was scared to death from the first meeting-- and-- and forever. >> and then robert told attorney rosenfield just about what you'd expect an accused murder might say -- he didn't do it.
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he didn't stab anybody. he wasn't even there. he only confessed, he said, because he was so scared -- >> reporter: did you push hard enough to find out whether or not he was actually telling you the truth or playing you? >> i take what the client tells me and i do an independent evaluation based on what i learn. >> so he watched the tape of robert's confession. which, didn't look right to him. besides -- >> there was no physical evidence at the crime scene to tie robert to the crime. >> but just as intriguing was this question -- >> why would rocky and jessica include a kid like robert? >> the fugett kids, as the kids at school and in the neighborhood knew, bullied robert mercilessly and he was terrified of them. surely he wouldn't help them murder the neighbor lady. yet, rocky fugett was going to tell the court just that. >> his lawyer had advised me that rocky wanted to get a favorable sentencing and was going to be testifying against
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robert. >> so, big problems. rosenfield knew from long experience that any jury hearing rocky's testimony and robert's confession -- would certainly convict. robert would very probably get a life sentence, no parole. robert's only chance of ever getting out of prison was to agree to something called an 'alford' plea. >> and we told robert that, "if you plead guilty under an alford plea you admit that there is sufficient evidence to prove your guilt but you do not admit that you're guilty." >> it meant accepting a 23 year prison sentence. it also meant he could never file an appeal. >> 37 years of practice, it is the hardest decision that i've made to strongly recommend a client to take a plea for something he didn't do. >> but at least it wasn't life. he was sentenced at 20, would be free in his early 40's. >> the day i was standin' in
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front of the judge, acceptin' that alford plea, cryin'. and just prayin' that one day, hopefully, the truth would come out, that i wasn't there. >> the fugetts avoided the death penalty but they got what amounted to life without parole. and steve rosenfield faithfully drove to the prison to see robert knowing the only way to get him out was to persuade the virginia governor to issue a pardon. fat chance of that. >> it was a pretty big long shot of getting him out before the 23 years for which he was sentenced. >> and then? two years after robert went top prison, rosenfield opened the mail, and found a letter. from, of all people, rocky fugett. >> dear mr. rosenfield, i have some information about robert that i think can be awfully beneficial. you are welcome to come visit me. snail mail.
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>> rest assured, steve rosenfield's drive to the prison was much quicker. coming up -- >> help is on the way from inside prison walls. and outside. >> this is one of the most intense interrogations that i've ever seen. >> that interrogation will soon be the key to the case. >> i can't lie about the evidence. >> he's lying about lying.
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>> reporter: attorney steve rosenfield was in for a big surprise when he arrived at rocky fugget's prison. >> it was shocking. >> reporter: it certainly was. rocky wanted to sign a sworn affidavit saying robert davis was innocent. had nothing to do with the murders. >> that was pretty powerful for him to -- to do that, considering his circumstances. nothing to gain. >> reporter: but rocky's admission wasn't enough to undo robert's confession. and then -- seven years into robert's prison sentence,
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rosenfield answered a phone call. and there she was. >> reporter: laura nirider of northwestern university's innocence project is a leading expert in false confessions by young people. she represents brendan dassey of "making a murderer" fame. nirider heard about robert's case and offered to help. and help us understand what happened to robert, as we watch the interrogation unfold. >> reporter: randy snead -- a man robert has long trusted begins the interview at 2:00 am, by which time robert has been awake 18 hours. >> never been in that house? >> no. >> reporter: again and again, more than 70 times. >> start telling the truth. >> i am. >> reporter: robert insists he is innocent. >> i had nothing to do with this. i swear to god. >> reporter: nine times, robert
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asks for a polygraph. >> i will take a polygraph test right now. i am being honest. i will take a polygraph test. i have said that how many times? >> officer snead, i was not there. i will take a polygraph test right now to prove to you that i was not there. >> when you've got somebody in the interrogation room who offers to take a polygraph, that's a strong sign of innocence that should not be disregarded. >> we know you were in the house, okay? >> reporter: but then snead's partner terry walls ups the ante. >> i was nowhere near the house. >> reporter: they have evidence, he says. >> we know you were in the house. we've got evidence that's going to prove you were in the house. >> reporter: they don't, by the way -- have any evidence of that. though it is legal for police to lie in an interrogation. >> i want to see this evidence. >> there -- you will. >> reporter: just after 3:00 am, robert asks for his medicine. he has strep throat. remember, he's also asthmatic. >> i need to take my third dose. i have not taken it. >> i will give you the penicillins once we get going, okay? you -- you work with me and i'll work with you. >> reporter: robert's been awake for nearly 20 hours. >> i'm tired. i want to go. i want to call my mom.
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tell her that i love her. i'm sorry for the -- all the pain that i've ever put her through. i had nothing -- i had nothing to do with this. >> reporter: more than a dozen times, he says he's tired and needs sleep. and several times, he tries to sleep on the cold floor. at 5:17 am, for no explained reason, they attach shackles to robert's ankles. >> come on, man. that's too tight for me. >> reporter: more than four hours into the interrogation -- randy snead tells robert he has more bad news. overwhelming evidence of robert's guilt. >> i don't need it. i've got evidence out the ass. dust is made up mostly of -- human dead skin. >> i didn't know that. >> that can be picked up. that dna. >> i'm not gonna to be able to keep you from the worst, robert. if you don't talk to me, i can't keep you from the worst. >> i wasn't there. >> robert, you were. you were there. the evidence shows you were there. the evidence shows it. i can't lie about the evidence.
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>> and not only was that false -- there was no d.n.a. found in this case. but the officer then goes on to say, "i can't lie to you about this, robert" -- and so in fact he's lying about lying. >> reporter: officer snead tells robert he faces what snead calls the ultimate punishment. he also says falsely -- that he's been talking to robert's mother on the phone. >> i told your mom that i would sit here and try to keep you from the most ultimate punishment you can get. and i'm trying to do that. and you're not even helping me to help you. i can't do no more. >> what was going on in there? >> there you see -- the police officer suggesting to robert that he's going to face death. and you also see the officer very cleverly using robert's relationship with his mother. >> reporter: and that's when robert's resolve begins to weaken. >> what can i say that i did to get me out of this? >> reporter: just before 7:00 am, five hours in, robert begins to bargain. >> how many years is it going to
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be, if i was just on the porch? >> how many years is -- will it be if you were just on the porch? robert-- >> when will i go home? >> huh? >> when will i go home today? will i go home now? >> i can't promise you. look, you work with me and i'm going to do everything i can to make sure your mom -- and we can get you -- maybe get you home. >> reporter: then, hoping it might get him home to his mother, robert offers a story he hopes will satisfy snead. >> i never went upstairs. i stood right there at the door. and then once i heard something, i got scared, i freaked and i ran. >> robert, sitting here trying to tell me -- and hide from me acts that took place is ridiculous. >> reporter: then snead lies to robert again, this time about one of the murder weapons. >> there's an item that you touched. all right? that had left some particles on it. that did some damage to somebody. what was that object, robert?
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>> i think it was a bat. >> it was -- it was a bat? >> a bat. a baseball bat. >> all right. some type of --. >> clubbing device. >> clubbing device. >> reporter: snead knows the weapon was really a metal rod. >> and then i hit her two times. because they said if it was -- if i didn't it would be --. >> wait a minute, now. i've got somebody else clubbing her, robert. i got someone else doing that act. >> reporter: robert has it wrong. >> hit her in the head with the smaky-thingy. >> reporter: jessica already confessed that rocky clubbed ann charles. >> you did another act. you know what that act is. and -- and we know. and that's the thing that has something on it, that -- that's yours. >> what would that be? >> well, you -- i -- i'm not going to tell you. >> reporter: so again, robert starts guessing. >> i didn't rape nobody. >> no. no. i'm not saying that. >> if that's what you're trying to -- >> no. i didn't kill the baby. >> no, i'm not saying that. i'm not saying that you raped anybody. >> i didn't cut nobody. >> i didn't -- didn't say you cut -- >> i didn't shoot nobody.
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>> i didn't say you shot nobody. robert, i'm going to come straight out and tell you what i was -- what -- what i'm getting. all right? since you're not going to tell me. >> you stabbed that woman. >> i stabbed her. >> you stabbed her, didn't you? >> one -- one or two times. >> reporter: then snead asks robert where. >> whereabouts on her body? >> it was in the middle. >> reporter: and again, snead corrects him. >> you had a knife in your hand. all right? and prior to stabbing -- stabbing her in the -- in the back. all right? you cut her. >> it was essentially the police's confession, not robert's. >> do you think by me telling you this, it's going to get me home tonight? >> tonight? >> today? >> today? i doubt it. >> well, then why am i lying about all of this to you, just so i can go home? >> you're not lying. >> i am lying to you. i'm lying to you full front -- full front to your face. i am lying to you. i am lying to you just so i can go home. which is exactly what juveniles who have falsely confessed say was their motivating factor for falsely confessing.
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>> reporter: but by 8:00 am, six hours after the interrogation began, randy snead has his confession. >> what you've said tonight -- to -- up to this morning -- to me. is that a true and accurate statement? >> yes. >> okay. >> reporter: when rosenfield delivered a clemency petition to virginia governor bob mcdonnell, nirdier added volumes of evidence in support. and then, as they waited for an answer. >> out of nowhere jessica sent a "dear mr. rosenfield" letter. she admitted to the throat cutting, stab wounds to the back and -- absolutely adamant that robert had nothing to do with it whatsoever. >> reporter: so jessica's affidavit was sent off to the governor, too. and everybody waited. and waited. and then on the governor's very last day in office, more than nine years into robert's sentence -- a decision.
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denied. rosenfield, devastated, drove to the prison to tell robert. >> robert and i hugged and we cried and probably is about the most painful part of this process. >> reporter: robert's only door to freedom slammed shut. but half a world away, someone else was watching robert's case. could his opinion make a difference? coming up -- >> isn't the confession the strongest evidence you can get? >> not always. >> the police detective in robert's corner when "dateline" continues. xwxexe
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>> reporter: this is the coffeewood prison, in mitchells, virginia. robert davis's home, this and other places like it, for something like 40% of his life. every moment of those years dictated by one long night with officer randy snead. at the miserable, exhausted end of which robert said the words he can't take back. >> you stabbed that woman? >> i stabbed her. >> you stabbed her, didn't you? >> one -- one or two times. >> most people would say, "i would never, ever, in a million years, confess --" >> or -- or how could you be so stupid and not know? you know -- >> uh-huh. >> and -- i was young. i didn't know.
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i was naive. you know, i was scared. >> reporter: robert is not alone, of course. there are people like him in situations just like his in jails and prisons all around the country, who confessed as teenagers to crimes they maybe didn't commit. in fact, to prevent that very thing, police departments in many other countries banned or dispensed years ago with interrogation techniques still used in america. had the murder happened elsewhere, for example, here in the united kingdom it's probable that robert still would have been brought in for questioning he was after all named as a suspect by others in the case. but the chances that he would have been charged or even interviewed for very long, close to zero. >> the interview as it is on the recording would not be legal in the u.k., and that evidence would not have been admitted to a trial. >> reporter: this is andy griffiths, 26 years a detective in the sussex police department, internationally recognized for his work in
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investigative interview techniques. when griffiths was a rookie, british interrogation rules were much like they are in the u.s. but, they are not anymore. >> what happened to precipitate these changes in the united kingdom? >> changes really came about through problems. >> reporter: like a national scandal after a series of high profile false confessions, including an arson/murder case eerily similar to robert davis's. >> so, the government of the day instigated a whole review of the way that prisoners were dealt with in custody. >> reporter: the result? a complete overhaul of the system. every officer in the uk retrained to rigorous standards that apply in every region of the country. strict rules were put in place for suspect interviews. all interviews in serious cases video recorded. >> there are two cameras up there. one gives a head and shoulders shot of the interviewee. and the idea behind that is that
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if this interview was shown in court, it gives a clear of picture of you. the other is a global view of the room. >> everyone who's in the room is shown in the picture. that's about showing exactly what happened. >> reporter: and this was key. no more lying. in america, it's legal for cops to lie to suspects. not here. >> could you, for example, go into this interview and say, "i have a certain specific piece of evidence that tells me you're guilty," if you don't have that evidence? >> no, absolutely not. >> can you talk to a suspect for as long as you want to? >> no, you should only interview for two hours at a time. and you should take recognized breaks at meal times, prayer times, and -- and nighttime. >> reporter: and someone a little challenged, like robert? >> they're entitled under the law to what's called an appropriate adult. now, that might be a parent. it might be a social worker. but they're entitled to that as well as their legal representative. >> reporter: but, when the interrogation rules were changed, many veteran officers were not happy. they resisted.
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detective trevor bowles remembers it well. >> senior people thought that this was a draconian piece of legislation that was gonna prevent us from ever detecting anything ever again. >> you'd never solve a crime anymore. >> we'd never solve a crime anymore, that it was gonna tie our hands behind our back and we would be unable to work with it. and they were wrong. >> reporter: very wrong. not only did false confessions all but stop, crime solving got better. >> detection rates in respect of homicide in the u.k. are very high. they're up in the 90% mark. >> reporter: and along the way, said griffiths, confessions, a hallmark of case-solving in the u.s, became much less important here in britain. >> we would not prosecute somebody on -- solely on a confession. so we -- so if someone did make a confession, we would try and corroborate what they said. so you'd have the supporting evidence as well. >> but isn't a confession the strongest evidence you can get?
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>> not always. >> but what's wrong with it? >> what confessions tend to do is they shape this confirmation bias. people then look for supporting evidence just to -- to support what's been said because the confession exists. >> reporter: so we asked griffiths to watch with us robert davis' interrogation. >> why don't you tell me, robert? >> reporter: and... >> what this guy's problem was, he was -- he was arrested last. and what they're saying is that, "we gospel believe the people that were arrested first. so you just need to confirm what we know." well, that's clearly not a good approach for an investigator. >> ya'll obviously think i'm lying, but i'm not. i swear to you that i'm not lying. i'm ready to go to sleep. so take me, because i did not do nothing. >> the time of day of the interview, the length of the interview, the use of -- of leg irons halfway through the interview, the clear requests for medication and sleep at various points in the interview were all red flags. >> when you -- when you looked at the whole thing, as you did, you sat back and you thought afterwards. >> the lifeblood of -- of -- of
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any account is reliability. and the way this is done is you can't vouch for the reliability. >> reporter: we'd asked for his opinion, and he gave it to us. robert's confession wasn't believable. what we didn't expect was what happened a few months later. when this british detective spoke to steve rosenfield and offered to write virginia's governor, adding his support to robert davis's clemency petition, a petition now waiting on the desk of a new governor. coming up -- >> i believe that the confession is an unreliable confession. >> strong words from the chief of police and from the governor's office. the wait gips. begins.
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>> i've never been emotional in a presentation as i feel in this case because i've grown very close with robert. >> reporter: for years, steve rosenfield made his case for robert davis to legal conference, to anybody who would listen, and robert remained right where he was -- in prison. during those same years, we tried repeatedly to contact and interview randy snead, the officer who took robert's confession. but as close as we got was the current chief of police of albemarle county, colonel steve sellers. he wasn't in office when snead was a detective,but -- you've talked to him. what's your sense of how he
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feels about this? >> i think he acted in the best interest. i think there wasn't a -- bit of malice in his actions. i think he had a -- very strong relationship with robert davis. >> reporter: but this was interesting. chief sellers did not support snead's interrogation. not at all. >> i will say this. i believe that the confession is an unreliable confession. >> reporter: what's more, the chief updated police methods when he took over to help prevent the kind of interrogation that ended up in robert's confession. >> i can't tell your mom that i can save you from the ultimate. >> reporter: as you look at that, what are things that would not be done? >> using terms like the ultimate punishment. length of the interview, those kinds of things would be clear -- clearly not done today. >> reporter: cold comfort for robert davis -- who, by 2014, had been in prison going on 11 years. a decade plus to go. unless --
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there was a new governor, terry mcauliffe in office now. so rosenfield renewed his appeal for clemency, though he was well aware that a tiny percentage of such petitions are ever granted. and as month after month went by, it wasn't clear what, if anything, was happening. >> what's disturbing about the clemency process is that it's secretive. >> reporter: but what rosenfield didn't know is that this time it was different. the governor, in fact, ordered a new investigation. >> law offices. >> reporter: and just before christmas, we were there when the call came. the governor's office. >> hey carlos, it's steve. >> reporter: and there it was. finally. the words he'd been hoping to hear year after year after year. robert davis was about to be set free. >> i'm elated. just in time for the holidays. today is robert's mother's birthday.
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>> come on, sandy, pick up. >> hello? >> sandy, it's steve. set another plate for tonight's dinner. i'm going up to pick robert up. >> oh, my god! >> i think this will be the last time i ever see this prison. >> reporter: at last, the final drive to robert's prison with the news that both had dreamed of for all those years. >> hey, robert. >> hello, hello, hello. >> reporter: how are you feeling? >> i'm -- i'm elated. i -- can't -- words can't describe it. words cannot describe. i'm just so happy. if it wasn't for that man fightin' for me right there i wouldn't be out right now. and this is just overwhelmin' right now. i'm outside of these fences, man! hello. i'm just getting ready to pull out.
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yeah, it's unreal, mom! as long as this ain't a dream, i'm leaving right now. >> reporter: and that very night, robert was together again with his mother, his brother, and freedom. >> robert! it's you. it's you. this is my boy. he's home! >> reporter: how does it feel out here? >> it feels great, man. >> reporter: a few weeks ago we came to see robert here in his new apartment in charlottesville, virginia, his very own apartment. in which, he tells us, there is no room for bitterness. too much to do. so here we are. >> yup. this is my humble home. >> reporter: not bad. >> yeah. yeah. >> reporter: how does it feel? >> man, it feels great, man. i just -- i haven't stopped smiling since i've come home. >> reporter: ha ha ha. i can tell.
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what are you planning to do with your life now? >> get a job and thrive. i've got this opportunity, and i don't wanna squander it, you know. that's a nice looking club. >> reporter: he's got a job working in a neighborhood deli. and he lives under the protective eye of the man who never stopped trying to prove his innocence, and who hasn't stopped yet. robert's pardon was "conditional," meaning he has a parole officer, an ankle bracelet, and -- still -- a record. >> well, i don't think the final chapter has been written on the robert davis story. this governor expressed to me that the door was open for a reconsideration toward an absolute pardon which would erase -- expunge his conviction. >> reporter: so he'd no longer have a record. just like he'd never been arrested at all. >> and that's a possibility -- down -- down the road. >> reporter: which, said laura nirider, is about the
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least robert deserves. robert, and untold others now languishing in american prisons, who confessed under duress to something they didn't do. >> slowly, these stories are beginning to make headlines, and so now we see eyes are beginning to open. questions are beginning to be asked around the country, and that is what happened in robert davis' case. >> reporter: one night of your life made a hell of a difference, didn't it? >> yeah, yeah. >> reporter: you know, it's a small town. have you ever run into randy snead? >> he lives here, but i haven't run into him. and if i was to see him walkin' down the street, i'd probably just keep walkin', 'cause i don't really have nothin' to say to him, except for, "i told you so. i told you that i was innocent." >> reporter: so he was. so he is.
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that's all for this edition of "dateline." it was tough. it was tough to think that anybody could do that to someone. to look at the pictures of what they did to her and hear details of how it was carried out, it's just, it's devastating. >> reporter: shauna tiaffay, loving mom by day, vegas cocktail waitress by night. >> i was at one of the bars and i saw her walk by. every single head turned.